Issaquena Genealogy and History: Mary Duncan Letter to Abraham Lincoln

Mary Duncan Letter to Abraham Lincoln

Mary Duncan was the wife of Henry P. Duncan of Issaquena County (son of Dr. Stephen Duncan, successful Natchez businessman and planter). Dr. Stephen Duncan had numerous plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana including the Issaquena County plantations of Ellisle, Homochitto, Duncansby and Oakley. Henry P. and Mary Duncan had considerable holdings in Issaquena County and were enumerated on the 1860 Issaquena County Federal Census returns, where he was listed as a planter.

His Excellency - Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States

My Dear Sir.

Before stating my case - permit me to introduce myself to you on paper - as a Northern woman, - wife of Henry P. Duncan of Mississippi & daughter-in-law to Dr Stephen Duncan. We have all been & are devotedly loyal. & when I inform you that my husband has had to conceal himself on various occasions - to avoid arrest & imprisonment for his well-known loyalty - & that Mr Davis issued orders for my arrest - I shall probably have said enough in sign & token of our Unionism, although  if further evidence be required - I can refer you to Mr Seward, - Genl. Halleck, Gen' Grant, - Admiral Porter, - Mr Thurlow ___, Mr Alex. Hamilton, Mr George Schuyler, & any number of influential & trust-worthy persons.- So much then, for our claims on the protection & justice of our rulers!

Owing to the conflicting authority on the Mississippi river - the "protection papers" given us (as well known loyalists) by Genl. Grant & the Admiral have been rendered null & void. & while one party violated said papers in the name of the "Treasury De'pt. - (taking books, curtains, & all they wanted) certain officers (acting under orders from Genl. Thomas) have forcibly seized & impressed our remaining male negroes. (saving some few who saved themselves by concealment or flight) & carried them off for service either as laborers or soldiers. - informing my husband "that all blacks thus impressed would be permitted to return to the estates to visit their families"! Thus - Genl. Grant's authority - & Gen Halleck's orders - are entirely cancelled. & if Mr Chase can seize all cotton, - Genl. Thomas seize all negroes, (despite their freedom & our wages) & if armed blacks can roam over the property at pleasure, may I ask, My Dear Sir, in what shape "protection" is to come? We have (in the Duncan family) nine plantations (about ninety miles above Vicksburg) on the Mississippi river. & owing to the depredations of the Union troops, - & the enormous loss in negroes - millions would hardly cover our losses. consequently it is somewhat natural that we should ask -- due protection for the fragment that remains of a once princely fortune. It seems rather hard, too, that - as recognized Unionists - we should be made to suffer so peculiarly. & while anyone hiring our estate from Genl Thomas - can obtain negro labour, & all needful supplies & provisions - no loyal citizen (who has perilled his life for loyaltys sake) is permitted to purchase one pound of food for his starving laborers - or hire his own freed blacks. neither are they given any choice of masters. but impressed to make cotton for speculating strangers, - or forced into military service. This injustice to Unionists speaks for itself. & having recently returned from a brief visit to that Mississippi region -- I can speak from observation & experience -- of the condition of things in that miserable country.- If we are recognized & acknowledged as faithful & long-suffering Unionists - can we not have protection from the Flag? & to you - My Dear Sir - as Chief Magistrate - do I apply for that "righting" of a great wrong. Our negroes are free. & we only ask to be permitted (with their consent) to hire the few that remain. & not to be further molested by either Gen' Thomas, - or commissioners from the Treasury De'pt. - Gen' Grant & the Admiral desire to protect us. but - their "papers" are rendered worthless -- by the higher law of Gen' Thomas & others. so - I now ask your authority in the matter. in order that we may know what to expect, - & whose commands are to be obeyed? My father-in-law's Unionism has made him so conspicuous both North & South - that his name may perhaps be familiar to you. - or - you may perchance have known of him as former Vice President of the "Colonization Society". He is Northern by birth & education, & - although nearly eighty years of age - has exhibited perfect courage & independence in the maintenance of his unflinching loyalty. yet - it is the property of this man & his family - that has been depredated & ruined.- If the oath of allegiance were offered tomorrow on the Mississippi river - it would be gladly taken by many. but - Gen' Thomas takes pains to repress & discourage loyalty. & - as in our case - makes no distinction between Unionist & rebel. All are punished & pillaged alike. & of what use are Gen' Grant & the brave Admiral's "papers" or commands - when Gen' Thomas (or others) can veto them! I have often declared (by tongue & pen) that I would willingly sacrifice all our property to ensure success to the Union cause. but - never thought that we were destined to be ruined pecuniarily - on account of the success of the Flag!

A few lines in answer would greatly oblige me. My address is care of "Duncan & Sherman. Bankers. New York". & trusting that you will see justice administered to us - I remain, My Dear Sir, with much respect 

Yours very truly 
Mary Duncan. 

Staten Island. 
May 24 - 63. 

Source: Mary Duncan to Abraham Lincoln, May 24, 1863. Available at Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D. C.: American Memory Project, [2000-02]),, accessed June 8, 2003.
1860 Issaquena Co. MS Census
Pg.5, #51, H.P. DUNCAN (m) 44 MS planter $60,000 - $34,000
                  Mary 30 MS

Will of Henry P. Duncan: Issaquena Co. Mississippi Will Book C, Page 224

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Entire Contents Copyright © 2003, 2004 Bob Franks.
Some of the photographs on this page are courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division